The Chilean Crisis Why it Happened and the Way Forward

My name is Hector Pizarro and I am
posting this video from Santiago, Chile on October 24, 2019. My family,
friends and colleagues abroad have been asking me how we are in these days of
unrest and, hopefully of change, in this country. I appreciate your concern and
kind words. I will now share my views on the situation, try to make some sense
of it and see what solutions are on the horizon. I was at Plaza Italia yesterday
to demonstrate peacefully because, like many others, I believe in the power of
expressing disapproval to the government in the form of non-violent action. Our own
president has acknowledged that right, which is a constitutional right.
But, unfortunately, the peaceful demonstration at Plaza Italia became chaotic when
police came with their tear gas cannons. I made this short clip there. This was a completely peaceful
demonstration I was here there were families there. We are people, just normal
civilians, and then the police started to attack us with this stuff. Look at that. If
you get that thing in your eyes then you’re in trouble. It doesn’t look good, but it was the
police that started all this with their provocation. It was a massive protest
with 20 blocks full of people from Plaza Italia down Alameda towards the city
centre and also coming from the east from Providencia. There were families
with even children there. Plaza Italia was absolutely crowded and suddenly the
police came with that huge water and tear gas cannon vehicle that you see in
the video. Then some people started to throw stones at them as they tried to
disperse the crowd and the situation escalated. The whole square, which minutes before was full of people, became a battlefield. That truck would stay still
for a few minutes and then charged – over and over again. I got some of that spray
in my eyes, which was actually very painful. Well, I guess that’s the point of
teargas isn’t it. As you see in the clip I’m not covering my face because I had
the constitutional right to be there. I didn’t throw things at the police either.
So all the interaction I had with the police was at the receiving end. I
actually thought it was plain water coming from the cannon. But no, it was a nasty substance. The police also shot teargas
rounds at demonstrators. They fired them directly at people and you can only hope
that they won’t hit people directly in the face. By the way, there were some
badass protesters, who would pick the canisters up and throw them back at the
police. All of these is unfortunate dynamics. These things shouldn’t really
be happening here. I don’t think it’s a good idea when the authorities escalate
a peaceful demonstration. The clever thing is de-escalation and they are
supposed to be in charge. They should know that, and use force responsibly. I’m
fully aware that there are furious people in the crowd. Mostly young men who want to express their frustration more physically, by throwing things at the
police, and that they also provoke the police. It’s a difficult balance for the
authorities, I’m sure. Should they stay a few blocks away and let people
demonstrate in peace? Unfortunately there are also vandals and delinquents hiding
among the peaceful demonstrators. I also condemn that, their actions. They
are actually not welcome among the peacefull crowd and several of us were actually
telling them off. I also keep in mind that the government has declared a state
of emergency and curfew, and that waives, at the government’s discretion, the
right of assembly. But as I mentioned Piñera has acknowledged himself people’s
right to demonstrate, and then the police should use the right tactics. I don’t
have the final answers here. It’s a complex and volatile situation and, of course, when people start looting, vandalizing or even torching
places, the police needs to react and arrest people. Chile is now on its
seventh day of emergency and curfew. The military are also on the streets with
20,000 troops, so the situation is fragile and 18 people have so far lost
their lives in fires, accidents and other events related to the unrest. Of those 18,
five have been killed by police or the military. But why did this happen?
The short version is because of the inequality that corrodes Chilean society.
Because within its macroeconomic prosperity a shameful reality is hidden.
The current crisis of our democracy has been triggered by a model that manages
to generate wealth but distributes it unequally. Now the long version; so
please bear with me. Chile is, by far, the most unequal country
in the OECD with 26% of wealth concentrated in the hands of 1% of the
population. There is also low social mobility, which means that if you are
born in the poorest 10% of the population, then there is a high
probability that your children will be poor; and conversely a person born in the
richest 10% has a high probability that their children will be in the wealthiest
10%. These inequalities are unfair, no doubt about, it because they
violate the principle of equality among human beings. Say, a talented girl, but
born into a poor family, in a poor district, will go to a school of poor
quality and low performance, and then she may never be able to bridge the gap
between her and an equally talented girl born in a wealthy district, to a wealthy
family. That difference, that gap, isn’t fair because it violates the principle
of equality. Because for both girls the same rules of the game will
not apply, and as time goes by these differences become structural and
permanent disparities. Eleven percent of poor students graduate compared to 84 percent
of rich students. These situations are not only unfair but they are a failure
if we want to improve society and its future viability and competitiveness.
Because, let’s let’s consider the genetic pool. By graduating mostly the well-off
people, it means that the best jobs the best opportunities will be available
only to a small social group. Does it mean that they are smarter? By no
means, only more fortunate and more privileged. So, when when students have to
drop out of school because of poverty it means that that creativity, that
brain capacity, that potential, is lost. That intelligent girl I mentioned will
have to work in some factory or in services for the rest
of her life. And don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against the rich. Good for
them if they made it. I oppose the structural inequality in society. Those
differences and inequalities result among other things, in our Minister of
Economy, Juan Andres Fontaine, recommending to his suffering fellow
citizens to get up earlier to take the subway before peak hours. Because, let me
explain that part to you: a few days ago which was actually what triggered all of
this, the Santiago metro increased its fare by 30 pesos which is USD 0.04,
leaving it at eight hundred and thirty pesos which is USD 1.14 dollars during the peak hours. The metro system works with a differentiated fare
depending on the hour. The 830 pesos fare would be applicable
during peak hours. It was this factor that led Minister Fontaine to propose
the great idea that people should get up earlier, take the subway earlier, and thus
pay a reduced fare. Why take the subway at 8:00 a.m. when you can take it at
6:00 a.m. and save a few pesos. So, when someone
mocks you, in your face, it’s natural to get upset. Speaking of the subway, the
poorest Chileans spend 30 percent of their income in transportation costs,
while for the affluent the percentage is only 2%. What Minister Fontaine said
indicates, or is evidence of, that the modal creates
lack of concern, and indifference, about the lives of others. Worse still, the
people he was mocking are required to organize their lives in a way that they
can continue to fulfill their role in this “model” we have here, where most
people must work hard, for low pay, with little hope of improvement and little
hope for a better future, better life. The principle of equality among human beings
is being breached. Their disadvantaged position is considered normal by the
system. It is not strange then, that they get a feeling of being treated in an
undignified manner. Which in this case, as we’re seeing, has generated resentment. So,
therefore, it is only it is not only that resources are being unequally
distributed, but that the system has established gaps that are impossible to
overcome. Working people also want to benefit from the good life, they also
want to be a part of it, but the current model does not make it possible. And the
current model requires a lot of consumption, i.e. that people spend
money in spite of their low wages. What is the solution to that? Borrowing. In
Chile it is very easy to obtain consumer loans. Most of the time you only need an
ID, a job, and a good credit record. No further question are
asked. Large supermarket chains offer their their own credit cards, which can
be used to finance food purchases. This allows supermarkets, which belong
to large economic groups, to profit not only from the sale of their products, but
also from the high interests applied to these consumer credits. Thirty years ago
the military dictatorship ended. The centre-left coalition governments that
followed: Patricio Aylwin, Eduardo Frei, Ricardo Lagos, Michelle Bachelet’s first
government and then her second one after Piñera’s first government simply gave
continuity to Pinochet’s economic model so the centre-left dedicated themselves
to managing it. They conformed to a liberal economic
policy. Therefore Chile is a country with superb macroeconomics, whose indicators
are cheered by the International Monetary Fund. But the working class,
those who have to take the subway, do not applaud. The government often says
that fiscal funds are limited. There is not enough money for the big projects of
our society, like free education, health insurance, better health services,
unemployment benefits, welfare, and so on. So people will be asked: Do you want a
free university for your children or a better pension? Both two wishes,
both legitimate, are not compatible because the fiscal budget is tight. That’s what we hear. The problem arises when a part of the
country does seem to be able to fulfill each of their wishes without limitations.
So, let’s see. In Chile the poor have
subsidized the rich for the past 30 years. When the system allows companies
to operate in a benign regime, with low taxation and paying minimum wages to their
workers then those workers are financing the wealth of the companies. And this is
not socialist yapping; it is just common sense. In a fair system, the state
would collect appropriate taxes from corporation and high earners, which would
be used among other things to finance education and health, and certainly
reform the pension system. That system that we have here that we call AFP or
pension funds, is a chapter in itself. Imagine that at the end of a working
life, on a minimum wage, you receive a minimum pension, which is not enough to
live on either. Not good. At the same time we are
witnessing a process of privatization of natural resources. Our country is probably
the only one in the world where water is private. Some rivers are private here. In
a model that remains embodied in Pinochet’s Constitution, we see public
resources transformed into private property. In northern Chile, 80% of water
bodies, are owned by mining companies. And there’s another situation, even more
unfair because then we’re talking about poverty and discrimination, is the
situation of our indigenous communities of the Mapuche. That is also a whole
chapter in itself. So, in Chile there is a deep
and rightful citizen distrust of all institutions, of all branches of the
state; the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. And also of supposedly
“moral bastions”, such as the Catholic Church, because of the generalized paedophilia, and priests and bishops either perpetrating it, or covering it up. There
is also distrust of the corporate world because of severe cases of collusion;
which are secret agreements that limit open competition by defrauding
consumers. And, of course, the usual businessmen financing political
campaigns in exchange of favors when the politicians are in office. Maybe that’s
not a Chilean only thing though. In declaring the state of emergency and
curfew, President Piñera said he was at war; not against peaceful demonstrators
but against violent supermarket looters. The timing of this rhetoric
though, couldn’t have been more unfortunate. Because it happened when the
military trucks started to roll on the streets. I’m sure there was no bad
intentions, and Piñera was stressed and only meant to speak harshly. The problem
is that most of the people in the streets were peaceful demonstrators, not
looters or vandals. To be fair, he has later apologized for his words. The point
I’m trying to make, is that the government never saw this coming, which only proves that politicians are really detached from the people that
elected them. And how about the opposition then? Should
they take over and give it a go? Are they any better than the government?
Absolutely not. The whole Chilean political class is discredited by its
unfulfilled promises, its tendency to nepotism and corruption, its mediocrity
and ineffectiveness. Seeing politicians on television these days is like a constant
facepalm. They line up to dust off their electoral promises and their discourse
of social justice, prosperity for everybody, and blah blah blah. Politicians
in both government and opposition are all colleagues. Politics is their job, is
their line of work, is their shop. Is there any solution? From the outset, it is
necessary to know that the very moment when a democratic government declares a
state of emergenc, and curfew in numerous cities, with the streets being patrolled
by soldiers, it is a defeat, a system failure. Therefore the system must be
changed. It is evident that Chile demands a new social contract, which is what they
are calling it now. And this is happening long overdue. Inequality is a
problem, and a serious one; a time bomb, as we have seen. The solution depends on a
fairer distribution of Chile’s economic wealth. We’re talking about
redistribution of wealth. Only with equality will we be able to feel part of
the same project; of a country that is moving forward together, and in peace. The
solution requires a broad and inclusive, serious and responsible dialogue that
includes the whole of society: students, the academic community,
grassroots social organizations and unavoidably, of course, the government and
opposition politicians; these usual operators. There are some good signs as
Piñera is reportedly meeting some organizations and intellectuals, and not
only politicians. He also said yesterday that he is now
listening “humbly” to the public. And by the way. He also reversed the subway fare
increase. I honestly wish him good luck So maybe it’s time for for summarizing all
of this. Someone explained what has happened in Chile by saying: it wasn’t
the 30 pesos increase in the subway fare but the 30 years of abuse. We all want to
return to normality, we all want the military to return to their barracks. So,
yes, we all want peace and prosperity for everybody. Those who hold economic and
political power must do something. Perhaps this time that they have
understood that a change is necessary; a fundamental change, a structural change. A
more egalitarian society is instrumental to the social peace we all wish for.

2 thoughts on “The Chilean Crisis Why it Happened and the Way Forward

  1. Sir, thank you for your wise and fair words. It seems you have had a series of governments that don’t actually respect the common person, that is extremely sad. Here in New Zealand we have had governments like that, but now, we can vote for real change. The main way that has happened is that we have abandoned “first past the post’ elections for a proportional system. The main effect of this has been the rise to power of new parties, different to the old two main ones. This has taught the two main parties that they must compromise, they must change. Here too wealth inequality has become out of balance toward the wealthy, however we are coming from a history of far, far more equity.

    The military being used against the citizens is wrong. The military should be used to assist the population in times of natural disaster, or defend the country in times of war. They should never be used against the citizens for political motives for any party, ever.

    Here too governments from both sides have sold state assets, owned by all, both rich and poor, but sold only to those wealthy enough to buy them. The purported intent of these asset sales was to reduce government expenditure and create new markets. Our electricity model was probably the best in the world. Prices were based on cost, plus maintenance and making incremental reserves for future development. This has been broken up into supply, distribution and retail sectors. Correspondingly there are now multiple companies in each sector. Each company has its own head office, chief executives etc etc etc, the most expensive and least productive costs are multiplied accordingly. All these chief executives get higher wages than the person who ran the WHOLE state electricity company before. Electricity prices continually increase because of this. I’m sure it doesn’t help you or Chile’s situation but understand all countries face similar problems.

    I wish you and all Chileans the best wishes, peace and prosperity for the future. I promise one day I will visit your beautiful country.

  2. 13 persons died by accident in riots and burnt?… only 5 killed by police or military, 5 killed is bad enough, but 13 persons killed by accidents it's just too much to be true, specially since you are telling the protesters are mainly peaceful civilians… what are the sources for this information?

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